Chef Prep and Hospitality Class
By Laura Christman
Cuisine Du Jour
Story and photos by Laura Christman
IT'S A THURSDAY MORNING, and Project Clam Chowder is underway at Enterprise High School in Redding. Students in black hats and double-breasted chef coats are chopping onions and celery, dicing potatoes, rendering bacon and mindfully stirring roux.
Things are going well, but instructor James Leedy plans to lead some cooking groups astray. He’ll advise them to add more broth than necessary or reduce the amount of flour, resulting in disappointing chowders with thin consistency.
“I will derail a few … They have no idea,” he confides.
Leedy is acting not with malice, but in pursuit of problem-solving. The teen cooks must react quickly and work together to come up with alternative thickeners to rescue their chowders – and they do.
So goes another day of real-world, hands-on learning in Enterprise High’s Chef Prep and Hospitality class.
The daily two-hour class blends culinary skills with science, entrepreneurship, creativity and critical thinking. It is a career technical education option in the Shasta Union High School District, open not just to Enterprise High students, but also to those attending Foothill and Shasta high schools (the district provides transportation to Enterprise).
The class uses the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s ProStart curriculum, which covers cooking techniques and restaurant operation.
“We are teaching industry standards,” Leedy says.
Culinary students compete in ProStart competitions, where they are judged on what they make, how they prepare it and how it is presented. In addition to the districtwide class, Leedy teaches a one-hour culinary class just for Enterprise students.
The high school’s lunchtime Savor the Flavor Culinary
Club connects culinary students to community. Students cook to support local causes and offer catering. The catering raises money for trips. This summer’s excursion is to Spain and Italy, where students will get lessons on paella, paninis and tapas.
Students of Enterprise’s program have been accepted at culinary institutes and college hospitality programs, earned scholarships and been hired at restaurants. “I can’t go anywhere in Redding without seeing a student in a restaurant,” Leedy says.
In 2018, Leedy was named California ProStart Educator of the Year.
“It gave a lot of great exposure for our program here,” he says.
This is Leedy’s sixth year at Enterprise. He had a 23-year career in the military, working as a cook in the Navy and Army. He was executive chef at Holiday Inn in Redding, where he worked with students enrolled in Shasta-Trinity Regional Occupational Program.
Leedy sees a need to reach students early to make them aware of career possibilities in culinary arts and hospitality. Beyond being a chef or line cook, there are jobs in restaurant management, marketing, nutrition, research, food photography and other areas.
In the ProStart class, students learn food sanitation and safety protocols, cooking techniques, menu development, restaurant design and how to create a business plan. The class is infused with the job skills of teamwork, time management and communication.
“Our focus is on career,” Leedy says.
The program articulates with Shasta College’s culinary program – students who enroll at Shasta College receive college credit for it. The class satisfies the University of California admission requirements for a high school elective. There are elements of math (measurements, conversions, budgeting) and science (nutrition, microbiology of food spoilage, effects of different types of heat on foods, etc.).
Through the class, students can earn certificates that help in landing a food service job, bypassing introductory college classes and obtaining scholarships.
Leedy enjoys being a mentor to the students. The biggest reward, he says, is “seeing their eyes open – when things click and they get it.”
“It’s a lot different than I thought it would be,” junior Conner Miller says. “I’ve been able to learn a lot of facts I didn’t know about food.”
He hadn’t considered a culinary career prior to the class but says it’s now one of his options, along with firefighting and welding.
Senior Parteek Basanti says the class is something he looks forward to. “I enjoy it. I love the days we cook.”
Senior David Tunin notes there’s a sense of satisfaction that comes with cooking. He recalls the first recipe – beef stew. “I felt very proud. It was the finest dish I had made. It looked nice and it tasted nice.”
Gloria Lopez, another senior, enjoys learning basics, like different knife cuts and the timing of adding ingredients. “There are lots of steps.”
In college, she’ll study cinematography but she expects to put her culinary skills to use. “I’ll be ready to cook for myself.”
Wyatt Bullen, a senior headed to Chico State University to pursue civil engineering, echoes that sentiment. “When I start living on my own, I’ll know how to cook something more than Top Ramen.” •